French officials are reporting that the Notre-Dame cathedral will survive the catastrophic fire that broke out on Monday, although its interior and exterior have suffered profound damage. The first major loss occurred a little before 8 p.m. in Paris, when the cathedral’s spire — a 19th-century re-creation of the 1786 original — collapsed in the blaze.
As the fire continued, it began to consume the roof, which had been built from over 5,000 oak trees and had survived since its construction in the 12th and 13th centuries. According to Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet, two-thirds of the roof was destroyed, and cathedral spokesperson Andrew Finot told reporters the medieval wooden interior had been gutted by the fire.
“These cathedrals and houses of worship are built to burn,” Vincent Dunn, a former New York City fire chief, told the New York Times. “If they weren’t houses of worship, they’d be condemned.”
Thanks to the efforts of 500 members of the Paris Fire Brigade, the iconic 226-foot towers on the cathedral’s west façade were “saved and preserved as a whole,” said Gallet. Built between 1220 and 1250, the bell towers dominate the main entrance for tourists and worshippers. Though Gallet said that “the main structure of Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved,” he added that there was a risk that some interior structures could still collapse and that firefighters would work through the night to cool them.
According to Reuters, within the cathedral, “firefighters battled smoke and falling drops of molten lead to salvage priceless artworks and relics.” Some items, like the tunic worn by the 13th-century French king Louis IX (St. Louis), were saved. But firefighters were not able to remove some of the larger paintings in time. Remarkably, the cathedral’s gorgeous rose windows, stained-glass panels were created between 1225 and 1260, survived the extreme heat.
By Tuesday morning, officials in Paris also confirmed that the cathedral’s 8,000-pipe organ had also survived the fire. “The organ is a very fragile instrument, especially its pipes. It has not burnt, but no one can tell whether it has been damaged by water. Nobody knows if it is a functioning state or will need to be restored,” Bertrand de Feydeau, of the preservation group Fondation du Patrimoine, told the Associated Press.
Remarkably, pictures emerging from the aftermath of the blaze show much of the cathedral’s main vault to be intact, including an astonishing find on the altar: